- Black Swan
- The Fighter
- The Kids Are All Right
- The King's Speech
- 127 Hours
- The Social Network
- Toy Story 3
- True Grit
- Winter's Bone
Regarding these films then, what's the story? First of all, I really liked every one of them - there really wasn't a duffer in sight. So, again like last year, there aren't any that I'd actively be disappointed to see win - no Titanics, no Bravehearts and certainly no Gladiators. But at the same time, I think are more deserving of victory than others. Anyway, in alphabetical order ...
Though nicely brain-twisting, Inception probably doesn't merit the winning slot. It creates a uniquely imaginative world based around the malleability of dreams, and brilliantly follows through on the logic of this world, but the bottom line is that it isn't really as emotionally grabbing as it thinks it is, and the "dream-physics" that it posits have nothing to do with real dreams. So though an enjoyable and engaging ride, no cigar.
The Kids Are All Right, by contrast, is a lot more emotionally (and politically) satisfying, dealing as it does with down-to-Earth family relationships, albeit with the spin of a lesbian nuclear family. By normalising what to many people is still something of a taboo, this central twist gives it a bit of an edge, one that may help it swing Academy voters. But as it otherwise presents a fairly run-of-the-mill parent/child/sperm donor plotline, I'm not sure that it's ambitious enough. I'd be very happy to see it win though. [Original comments]
The ubiquitous The King's Speech is the one that's doing all the running in the UK. It's certainly been raking in the cash at our local arts cinema off the back of its mass appeal (largely with a particular, grey-haired demographic). Again, I really enjoyed it, and it combines a tale of royalty with triumph over adversity, World War 2 and Winston Churchill - a fairly winning combination. But I just prefer some of the other films, and the republican within me has steeled me against its charms. That, and I'm not entirely happy with its rather fast and loose treatment of history (plus: I can't square Helena Bonham Carter, who I've always really liked, with the Queen Mother).
I originally found it hard to comprehend why anyone thought a film about the origins of facebook was a good idea, let along the director David Fincher. But I was very pleasantly surprised at just how well what should, by rights, be a dull dot-com tale was brought to life on the screen. Fincher and his screenwriter Sorkin have definitely pulled something of a blinder with this one, and have made a enjoyably well-paced drama out of some fairly hard-to-like characters and, well, geekery. The Social Network seemed a surefire winner a few months back, but its star seems to have fallen as rivals have been released. I wouldn't complain if it were to win, but my money's moved elsewhere. [Original comments]
It's difficult to count the number of ways in which I love Toy Story 3. Of all the films in the running, this is probably the only one for which I have unequivocal love. Thanks to its earlier, peerless instalments, the bar was set high, but Toy Story 3 totally cleared it. Though fantastical, it invests its central, non-human characters with levels of pathos, as well as humour, that other films just can't touch. And the imagination and inventiveness that have gone into it make it a pretty infectious joy to watch. As a threequel, its placement in the starting line-up is reminiscent of that given to Return of the King, which effectively stood in for all three films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. But it's also more plausibly in the running for Best Animated Feature, so though I'd be delighted if it won Best Picture, I'm pretty sure that it won't (though if it doesn't win in the animated category there is no justice!). More generally, I'm also a little against the idea of an animated fantasy winning Best Picture - but that's probably just cinema-as-an-art snobbery. [Original comments]
The last time that the Coen Brothers tried their hand in the remake department, they uncharacteristically produced a rather lame mess (whose sole redeeming feature was a nice line in Southern Gothic). The contrast with their most recent film, True Grit, couldn't be greater - this time around they're firing on all cylinders (or perhaps barrels?). The result is a hugely enjoyable, and darkly humorous, western yarn, solidly grounded by the performances of Jeff Bridges and newcomer Hailee Steinfeld, whose chalk-and-cheese relationship in the film lightens what's an otherwise gritty western. Given that it's both a remake and a western, I was surprised at just how much I liked this. Whether its likely to be a winner is more difficult to say - being a remake probably counts against it, for instance. But, again, I'd be really pleased to see it make off with the statue.
Last, and pretty far from least, is probably the most low-key of the runners, Winter's Bone. In some respects it, too, can be viewed as a western, albeit a modern-day one in which the impoverished midwest stands in for the wild west, and where the outlaws are more interested in methamphetamine than holding up stagecoaches. Like True Grit it also rests on excellent central performances, here Jennifer Lawrence and a rather scary John Hawkes. But it avoids the dark humour of its rival film with a plotline that has more than a passing resemblance to Heart of Darkness, as Lawrence's character seeks her estranged father among rural drug families. Again (I'm sounding like a broken record ...), I really enjoyed this film, and would be pleased were it to win. Certainly, as a more "serious" film, I think it has a good chance, but it's perhaps from a little too far outside of Hollywood to charm Academy voters.
Anyhow, overall I'd rank the films as follows in terms of "who I'd like to win" ...
|1=||The Kids Are All Right|
|1=||Toy Story 3|
|5||The Social Network|
|6||The King's Speech|
I can't really decide among my top four, so there's no 2nd, 3rd or 4th places, but the remaining three films are slightly easier to separate. It feels a bit mean to place Inception last, but the field is strong this year, even if I can't really pick out one film that's head and shoulders above the rest. I will be (ever-so-slightly) disappointed if the winner isn't in drawn from the ranks of my top four, but I won't be seriously put out by any winner this year. There's just nothing even faintly approaching the cringingly awful Gladiator for me to get all indignant about.
Anyway, all will be revealed this coming Sunday. Can't say I'll be staying up for the ceremony, but I'll be interested to see which way the Academy bends when confronted with such a strong field. Will it be towards a cinema staple like a western? A fast-talking up-to-the-minute dissection of the dot-com era? A crowd-pleasing animation? Stirring but royal-loving and revisionist history? Or a warm, diversity-embracing family drama?